welcome to lent

welcome to lent 2012.

although we are already 3 days in, it seems appropriate to begin a practice of blogging everyday — as part of my methodist roots to “take something on” for lent. lent often times takes form of deprivation, but i view it as a time to grow closer to god.

in november, i had the change to visit mars hill church in grand rapids, michigan where rob bell used to be the pastor. they have a fantastic experiential lenten calendar which i used last year as well. they give recommendations of something to do everyday. it is very different from anything i had ever heard of, and am planning on using it.

while some years i have given things up: soda, meat…other years, i have tried to take things on. lent should not only be a season in which we “fast from” but also one in which we “live to” — which i think, is where the mars hill church is focusing in on. they say on their calendar that

“by fasting from certain things, we practice dying to ourselves. by refocusing our lives, living to god, we intentionally choose things that help us become the kind of people God desires us to be”

this is a wonderful practice, and i’d encourage you to do a little bit of both this lenten season, as we move closer and closer toward that something new that god is doing in the mystery of jesus’ death and resurrection.

may you have a blessed lenten season in which you grow closer to the god that loves us unconditionally. i’d appreciate you sharing what you are doing this lenten season to grow closer to god 🙂


illuminating india

india. a place that we often see in the movies as one of romance, color, poverty, and many of the words that mark twain describes in his quote above. last month, i spent two weeks in this country that will leave a lasting impact on my life. i would like to share with you the sermon that I preached this last week on the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) where I talk a bit about my experience there. 

Let us pray: God, be present in this place. Open our hearts and our minds by your presence to hear what you say to us today. Amen. 

The church calendar today finds us on Transfiguration Sunday — just a few days before Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent – a season of contemplation, and a journey toward the cross and Easter Sunday. A Journey, a time of contemplation about who we are, whose we are, what we are called to do in the world. However, historically, and in places like New Orleans, the night before Ash Wednesday many people will celebrate Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday where people would historically eat rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. A fun, loud, exciting experience that is followed by a season of contemplation. A mountain top experience where eventually we have to come back down, back to reality. While Jesus’ experience on the mountain wasn’t quite one that we would consider to be Mardi Gras, it was one that Christians hold with high importance, and significance.

Jesus’ transfiguration is the story we read in our gospel lesson today. It’s one of the many revelations by God of Jesus’ importance. Not only does Jesus become dazzling and illuminated, but God comes AGAIN. It seems like only a few chapters before, God comes down like a dove telling Jesus that ‘you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” However, this time, God comes as a cloud and announces to not only Jesus, but also his followers that “This is my son, the beloved. LISTEN TO HIM.” It’s interesting, that God tells the disciples to listen to him. If we go back a chapter in the gospel, we find that it comes right after a time when the disciples were almost starting to understand what Jesus’ mission was (I say almost…because they really didn’t seem to GET IT). However, then Jesus explains with a bit more emphasis on death, and rising, and Peter tries to tell Jesus he is wrong. Well, Jesus doesn’t like that very much, and rebukes Peter for not listening, telling him he is too focused on human things, not divine things. So, it was time for God to intervene.

In the time when these stories were written, clouds signified direct encounters with God. We know this in the stories of the Old Testament, especially when God appeared to Moses and the Israelites as a pillar of cloud – it’s a direct encounter with God. God is telling them that this is really happening: it’s a glimpse of what is to come. The journey we are beginning towards the cross – the journey toward resurrection.

But what about all the glistening? And the sight of Elijah and Moses? And Peter wanting to build all of these houses for them? To the disciples, Jesus is now appearing as a vindicated martyr, in the same way Elijah and Moses did.  And then? Jesus gets transformed – into a white that “no one on earth could bleach so white.” I think my mom would be the only one to challenge that one. This transformation of the cosmos – of Jesus’ being — is beyond our understanding. Something that could only be done by God – something new, something illuminated in a new way. Nothing that we are used to. But also, something that Peter wasn’t used to. Peter was called up the mountiain with jesus, and it says that he became TERRIFIED. These kind of mountain top experiences can be scary and are moments that may lead us to where we never thought we would go. However, we eventually come back down the mountain and become willing to enter the pain and brokenness of creation bringing with us the promise of life, hope and resurrection. That is what Jesus and the disciples brought back down. They went up, saw a glimpse of something new that God was doing, and eventually came back down because we can’t stay on the mountain. We descend, continuing on our journey towards new life in a world that is so broken.

That’s the beauty of resurrection. Something coming to new life. Our hope as we are on the mountain, and coming down the mountain is for what God can do. We find ourselves dreaming, hoping for something new, something different than what we assumed. It’s at this point that we also begin to see ourselves in the midst of something bigger. I can imagine that at this point in the story, the disciples up there with Jesus saw something new. A glimpse of what was to come, that perhaps made them see themselves in a broader picture. They saw themselves rooted in the realities of creation – and perhaps this tapped into their deepest longings to be a part of that new thing that God was doing.

But what does that look like for us, 2000 years later in a society that doesn’t go to the mountain. Well, perhaps God doesn’t send us to a literal mountain. Perhaps God sends us to a place that is different from our own, perhaps a place like India. I remember the first time I became fascinated with Indian culture. It was in Elementary School, when my friend Vaishali came to school with henna on her hands. I was amazed! The story doesn’t pick up again until college, when my friends travelled on a service learning trip to India. I was so jealous, and wanted to be a part of it. But something inside me said, your time will come. I remember watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire and falling more in love with the culture, the people, just everything. Just 2 years ago, I decided to sponsor a child in India. And then? I started at Drew University and learned I would be able to GO to India. It was as if God was getting ready to send me to the mountain.

Mentally preparing yourself for a new culture is not easy. Every time I told someone I was going to India, I was met with hesitation, and questions of “why did you want to go THERE?” My Dad suggested that maybe I should take a trip to Hawaii instead. However, I assured them it was where God wanted me to be. After all, Mark Twain describes it very well in his journal from the late 1890’s:

“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all [people] desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” – Mark Twain on his visit to India in the late 1890’s.

However, no matter how excited, how prepared you are, nothing can prepare you for India. I was just as the movies the other day, and saw a preview for a movie called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’d like to show you this morning as a glimpse into a bit of what I was feeling when I was in India.

I have to admit, I got very excited when I saw the preview, as I had seen all of those things. The feelings of those characters — the excitement, then the hesitation while there, and the thriving was the way I felt through my trip. My favorite quote from that clip is when the woman says “this is a new and different world the challenge is to cope with it; not just cope with it but thrive.” I will be honest — I didn’t love India when I first arrived. Much like Peter in the transfiguration story, I was terrified by what I saw. My senses were overwhelmed: The poverty I saw, the smells on the roads, the tastes of the food, and the feeling of the hot blazing Indian sun. It was beyond anything I could have ever expected. At these first moments where India became real to me –I was terrified, much like Peter in the gospel story we heard today. I had no idea what to do or what to say. For a good 8 days I wasn’t sure why I was in India. I wanted to come home, and never ever go back. I questioned God – asking why God had sent me here to this place, and asking God to send me home

However, then everything became Illuminated when we visited the slums. We drove up, I got out of the car, and couldn’t contain myself at the sight. It’s like you see in the movies. It took everything in my power to contain myself and keep my mind focused on the church service we were about to attend. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized why I had been called to go to India — to go to a place unknown to me — a place where something would become Illuminated. A Mountaintop experience where my world would be completely transfigured. And who would have thought this would be illluminated by a young girl’s smiling face. A young girl wearing a green outfit, with braids in her hair. A young girl whose eyes were never opened when I took her picture, yet smiled at me with her eyes radiantly when I was with her in that slum in Bangalore.

Her face didn’t leave my mind for days. I lay restless on the overnight train right thinking about her. I couldn’t remember her name — maybe it started with the letter D? But it didn’t matter. I came home from India sure that I went there to see her face — to make everything illuminated. I was terrified, like the disciples, at what would happen there. Like the disciples on the mountain with jesus. I was in India, staring into the eyes of this young girl, asking her what her name was. SMACK. No, it wasn’t Jesus in dazzling white clothing, but a young girl with a dazzling white smile. And it was at that instant, i got it. I heard God whisper using a still small voice — this is my beloved child. i love her, just like I love you. I love the children of God here in India!

And then, in a fleeting moment, it was time to leave.  I will never see her again, but her dazzling, illuminated, smiling face will never EVER leave my mind. I will take with me forever the lesson I learned about how connected we all are. It was time to come back down the mountain in order to figure out what to do with all that information.

Like the disciples, and like jesus, we all experience mountain top experiences. Whether that be with the small face of a child, or your own personal experience where you meet, hear, or feel God. And then? God doesn’t stick around. God makes us go back into the world to figure out what God wants us to do with this information, to figure out how we can make sense of it all in this broken, hurting world. And that, my friends, is where we are headed. Into a season of contemplation, into a time where we sense and feel the hope rising in each one of us, the hope that God dreams up something new — something different. We come down from the mountain yearning for that day of new dreaming.

May it be so. Amen.

restore hope: first sunday in advent

this was the sermon i preached last sunday, november 27 — first sunday of advent. the sermon series for advent is restore us, o god. enjoy [and disregard spelling and grammatical errors]

Let us pray: God, be present in this place. Open our hearts and our minds by your presence to hear what you say to us today. Amen. 

I know it is almost Christmas because outside the rink that I teach skating at, Christmas music has begun to play. I see Christmas lights outside, and Christmas trees through windows. The trees have arrived outside the church. We have lit the first advent candle, signifying our journey toward the birth of the Christ child. While the Christmas season asks us to hurry up and get everything done by December 24, the church calendar asks us to wait. We spend four Sundays saying “come, Lord Jesus” in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We are waiting for God to work in our world – not just from far away but IN THE FLESH AND BLOOD. God comes down and brings a new way of living in Jesus, ushering in a way to live, love, and be in community with one another. Advent is a reminder that our world is hurting, and we need something. We wait for Jesus to come during this time to bring restoration.

In our scripture lessons for today, we find people who need restoration. In Psalm 80, the title being a “prayer for Israel’s Restoration,” there are many references to a people who need saving and restoration. The Psalm opens and closes with “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” They are looking for something —  They are looking for a light in the midst of the darkness: They are looking for something called hope. They are lost, consumed, alienated, alone and are in need of hope and assurance. They make it quite clear that without hope for the future, they are doomed. They are crying out, in their own words, “come lord jesus.” And asking for a personal interaction with God. They don’t just want God to provide, but want to have face time with God.

The passage from Isaiah finds us in a time when a community is desperate for something real; something that satisfies. They beg and plead for forgiveness after what they have done. They want to see God’s face, and therefore make right the relationship between them and God. The people are in need of a new start, they put their hope then in God, not in themselves. The entire book of Isaiah speaks a lot about the image and coming of a new ruler who will usher in a new age of justice, righteousness, and peace – this idea would later develop into the concept of a messiah in early Jewish and Christian writings, thus leading to the understanding that Isaiah was prophesying the coming of Jesus – a new ruler, not like the ones the people of that day were familiar with. We hear an aching, a longing, a groaning in the community for something new – not uncommon of lamenting psalms, for God to intervene and appear in the ways of old. This can be seen in the first few verses that talk about the mountains quaking, fire appearing, nations trembling, etc. They are longing for God’s presence, and are almost reminding them to wait. Like we wait for Jesus, the messiah, God incarnate, during this time of advent to come and bring in a new way of life to us.

These people were facing issues not unlike our society is today. We hear of people in our own neighborhoods without food, we hear of the injustices all over the world of people dying from disease, of those being isolated from communities because of who they are. Like the psalmist, we too, ask to see God’s face. I know, often times I feel hurt by the news going on in the world and my prayer is often, “God, where are you in this mess? Show up when innocent people are being killed, and when there is injustice in the world. We need you more than ever.” Show your face in this broken, hurting world. In the midst of our asking, our suffering, our hurt feelings, our sadness, we are saying in our own words, Come, Lord Jesus.

But God shows up. God always seems to show up when we least expect it. So, in our desire to know that we are okay, that God is with us, God shows up. As a baby, in a manger, inviting love and compassion into our everyday life. Jesus doesn’t come with a magic wand, fixing all the problems of the world, but this time of year reminds us that God is active in the lives of humans. God is present, God shows up as a human, in the most vulnerable of ways to get to know and understand even us – each one of us sitting here in the pews, bringing us hope, saying “yes, I’m here. And I love you, my beloved child.” God loved us SO MUCH that he brought hope into the world through a baby in a diaper in a manger. Not a prince in a castle, but in a manger with animals all around. Not exactly the nicest of places, but it brings this message of hope that God can be active in all of our lives, not just in the ones who say they are perfect Christians, but in the ones who are living in the mangers and barns of todays worlds. God reaches way down to all of us, restoring our hope.

This simple prayer, Come, Lord Jesus, according to Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, “is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves. We are able to trust that God will come again, just as Jesus has come into our past, into our private dilemmas and into our suffering world. Our Christian prast then becomes our Christian prologue, and ‘Come Lord Jesus’ is not a cry of desperation, but an assured shout of cosmic hope.”

Hope is not just wishing for what is to come – but trusting that God is at work in each of our lives. We are hoping, living in anticipation of what God is going to do next. Advent prepares us for that, During this season of advent, God restores our hope in society, our hope in the world, and our hope in what God is doing in the world.

But what does hope look like in a society where there is hurt and pain and suffering? [This story comes from Rob Bell’s book, Sex God] In 1945, a group of British Soldiers liberated a German concentration called Bergen-Belsen. One of them, Lieutenant Colonel Mercin Willet Gonin DSO, wrote in his diary about what they encountered:

“I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere…One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect…”

He describes in detail the situation of this concentration camp, which was stripping people of their humanity, leaving them hopeless. Imagine, being at this camp, waiting to die. Do you suppose there was any sense of what was to come? The situation there was, quite frankly, “hell on earth.” Hell meaning something void of love, peace, hope beauty or meaning. Hell meaning not a part of the will and desire of God.  A place without hope, in need of restoration.

The Lieutenant Colonel goes on to continue his story about something amazing that happens;

“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrive, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived [note: they did not ask for lipstick]. This was not at all what we wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things, and I don’t know who asked for lipstick [perhaps things like food, water, etc.]. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets, and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the postmortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had dome something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

While Jesus doesn’t exactly show up in a manger with lipstick, this story is one of the restoration of hope. Hope comes to these people in one of the most unexpected ways: through lipstick. Hope comes to us through a babe wrapped in cloth laying in a manger. Though the gift of lipstick, women, stripped of their hope, beauty, love, and future are given a small bit of hope back through the gift of lipstick. May we, also, find hope in the most unexpected of places this advent season, whether that be a babe in a manger, lipstick, or even just a warm friendly smile. May it be so. Amen.

the one where i have growing pains.

remember growing pains?

no, not the tv show. well, i guess on second thought, that would be rather applicable. i was thinking more along the lines of the ones you get in your leg as a kid. you would tell your mom, and she would say, “oh, that’s just growing pains.”

as we get older into adolescence and young adulthood, growing pains shift into something else. it becomes about behavior, attitude, and often grows out of an existential crisis. we, as young adults, are going through lots of changes. graduating high school, going to college, graduating college, getting a job, moving home, going back to school, moving out of home, getting married, and many others lead to these growing pains.

i suppose one would say i’m at this point of my life. as i’m getting ready to get married and move out on my own, i’m fairly certain growing pains are happening. the world around us is changing, and we must change to continue moving with it, no matter where it seems the world will take us. we make decisions that aren’t the best, and have to learn to reconcile those broken relationships on our own. we begin to think about finances in a more responsible way. we cry because we’re not sure how we can afford an apartment, yet desperately want the independence that comes with it.  we become completely and utterly responsible for our actions, and are expected to act grown up.

however, i think often people forget that we are all in process. no matter what our age, our shoe size, our life situation, or our mental capability, our personhood is drastically shifting based on what is going on around us. this is similar to the field of process theology. process theologians claim that because god interacts with a changing universe, God is also changeable over the course of time. While the basic characteristics of god stay the safe, god changes and is in process based on the world around.

think about the new testament for a minute. “for god so loved the world…” now compare this to the number of times god condemns and sends lightening strikes down at the humans in the hebrew bible. while i am quite familiar that god also saves god’s people, god also participated in many violent acts in this time period. the god of the hebrew texts is much different from that of the christian scriptures. god is in process just like all of us. 

it’s important that we don’t expect people to be perfect, when we ourselves don’t like that expectation placed on our shoulders. we must remember always that all people are in process — we are sojourners on this crazy road called life, and must always remember that we are all in it together, and for no other reason than we are all trying to navigate our way down this crazy road called life.

that was [not] easy

i’m going to let you know what’s been going on in my life by telling you what i’ve learned is not easy over the last month or two.

hence, my list of things that are not easy:

1. death. i’m still trying to figure all that out, because of the death of my friend esquire. it’s still very much a part of my daily life. there is something missing in seminary hall at drew university. i miss you, esquire and know your spirit is here with me.

2. flatware choices. matt and i created our first wedding registries last week! i didn’t realize until then how difficult it is to choose flatware/silverware (my grandma corrected me in that term. no longer will i call it silverware). we did have fun, and are excited about some of our finds.

3. christian ethics. this class might kill me this semester. it is over my head a bit, and i’m kind of confused. i want to love it, but i’m having trouble loving it. maybe i’ll find help, soon.

4. wedding planning. i wish my wedding would plan itself. i just do not have time to dedicate to my wedding, which is going to make it super simple and happy and about the marriage itself. i’m happy, but wow. organizing bridesmaids, fittings, etc. is tough work. i do not envy wedding coordinators.

5. reading all the assignments for seminary. yeah, that will never happen. especially being a full-time student with 2 jobs and a 5 hour/week internship.

6. change. we’re about 3 months into a pastoral change at the church i work at. change, for anyone, is not something that is easy. we are all learning, and i think it will bring great things to the church.

7. waiting. matt and i are so ready to get married. do we really have to wait until may?

i think that’s all for now. i’m sure there are more things, but i can’t think of all of them. i’m learning, and growing in this stage at seminary and learning  a lot about myself.



remembering esquire

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
— Anne Frank

esquire holland: sept. 17, 1958 -- august 9, 2011

SIDENOTE: i preached this sermon on 8-14-2011, just a few days after i found out my friend, esquire holland had died from an unexpected heart attack. i learned so much from her. i went to her funeral today, a celebration of her life, where it was obvious the impact she had on the world. she exemplified the life of someone who didn’t wait to change the world. for me, it was her smile that lit up the room, and the lessons she taught me about acceptance. i will miss her and the way she understood people. i love you esquire, and i know your spirit is here with me, and will be forever.


I met Esquire the first day of orientation at Drew Theological School. She sat in the back corner of the room, struggling to log in to her computer. A middle-aged African-American woman, I introduced myself to her and offered to help with her computer. We sat, talking for a little while before the orientation started. I learned that she had previously been a lawyer, hence her nickname, and was living in Montclair at the time, and would be taking the train from there everyday to Drew. As orientation went on, I was rather intimidated by her boisterous personality and thought it was getting a bit annoying that she made comments every few minutes while others were talking. However, I tried to look past those things and find the good in her – to “mine the gold” as my parents taught me growing up.

The orientation group I was a part of bonded quite well as there were only a handful of us starting school that January. As the semester kicked off, Esquire and I found ourselves both in the choir, but I still was unsure about her. However, she was always checking in on me and asking how I was doing. She called me by name (a big deal to me,)  and remembered the littlest things I told her.  I could tell that she was genuinely interested in my life, and wanted to know how it really was with ME, not just small talk. I talked more with her and learned that her call in life was to work with youth, most especially gay and lesbian teens who were struggling to find their place in the world because she, too, had experienced that. I admired her for that and thought, yes, God definitely is working through her and loves her despite how different she was from me. We talked and talked about youth ministry, and she was so encouraging, sending me messages like “I believe we will both be incredible gifts to the youth of tomorrow who yearn to know God as we do…” to me during rough patches of school and the busy-ness that we all know on a daily basis.

Despite what seemed like our one similarity – youth ministry — Esquire and I had completely different life experiences yet there was something that drew me to the friendship I gained with her. I’m not sure if it was her energetic spirit (much like mine), her smile that could light up a room, or perhaps God was cooking and blending up something that I didn’t know about yet.  I leaned more toward that one, and even told a few people that I was sure God put Esquire in my life for a reason.

A few months ago, she told me that she was going to have to take a leave of absence from Drew because of health issues, and she was continuously in my prayers. As that semester began, I missed seeing her bright smile and energetic presence in the choir and in my classes and even just in the hallway. She was such a light in our community, and there was something missing when she wasn’t there. When she came to visit, I practically jumped onto her, and could hear her laugh when she walked in the building. I prayed for her daily, and was SURE that God was watching out for her.

Just three days ago, I was having dinner with the director of the chapel at Drew’s daughter who got a text from her mom that said a theological student had died. My heart sunk into my stomach and I got really nervous, and immediately checked my Drew email. The email was right there – “Sad news about Esquire Holland.” Esquire had died that morning from an unexpected heart attack. I was in shock. No, not my friend – not the one who was doing great things for and through God and working so hard to help the youth of this world.. Not the one who brought such light and energy to a community. But it was true. I sat, took a deep breath and began processing what that means. And why such a kind soul would be taken so early. However, as emails circulated around the Drew community, someone brought up how as Christians, we are people who believe that life conquers death and through that, we have many lessons to learn. Sometimes it is people who help us learn those lessons. In this case, it was Esquire, through our differences, who taught me that we are all one, no matter who we are.

In today’s scripture, Jesus learns something from the Canaanite woman. The gospel lesson today lands us with Jesus in a place near Syria, where it says that he went away – almost as if to get away what had happened earlier in the chapter – a conflict between the Pharisees and the scribes over tradition and authority. It was like he was on vacation, trying to get some quiet time. He was a busy person! As he was traveling, a woman came up to him. This wasn’t just any woman, but a Canaanite woman. Canaanites were considered to be Israel’s pagan enemies, and were Gentiles. We know from the scriptures that both women and Gentiles were marginalized, and not so much around jesus and his disciples, yet she somehow knew that Jesus was not just any person. She knew that there was something special about him. She knew he was the messiah, the JEWISH messiah – in fact, calling him “Lord, Son of David” which is the Jewish messianic title. She then proceeds to ask him to heal her daughter who has been tormented by a demon. But, Jesus doesn’t answer. He completely ignores her.

We don’t like to think about Jesus as being anything except for loving. But to IGNORE someone? Then the disciples even want to send her away. Then, Jesus responds. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” At that moment,  Jesus thought his ministry was only for the people of Israel.  The woman persists. She makes it quite clear that no, even others get the “crumbs” or the leftovers – she thinks that she is able to receive Jesus’ healing power. She is not kidding around. This woman is showing Jesus that she has faith in the compassionate God of Israel, not in Gods that are vengeful and angry. This woman insisted to Jesus that surely the God of Israel cared for her, loved her even though many people at the time called her a “dog” or undesirable. Jesus recognizes this, and sees that her faith is great, and her daughter is healed. Jesus comes to realize that yes, she, too is a beloved child of God – the God that Jesus knows. And she deserves to be loved and treated like so. Despite her ethnic differences, Jesus and the woman have that in common – they are loved by God.

This is a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry, as he heals a woman he didn’t think that was part of his mission. However, Jesus learns from this that his ministry extends passes the reaches of his own understanding, to people he wouldn’t normally encounter on a daily basis. We sometimes forget that Jesus, too, was human. We focus so much on him up on the cross, or as resurrected. But like us, Jesus had to learn lessons. Those lessons sometimes come in ways that are unexpected.

We have people in our society who are like the Canaanite woman. We come across them and don’t bother starting a conversation because they are different or not “one of the chosen.”  We walk by them on the streets or ignore them when they ask for food or money. We often forget that we probably have more in common with them than we thought. They probably have a different perspective of the world around them, and we can actually learn things from them. Yet, despite our differences, we find commonalities. Perhaps that we are all the children of God? Yes, I think when it comes down to it, that commonality is the most important of all of them. It is what makes us one, and what unites us.

A few weeks ago, I went to see U2 in concert at the New Meadowlands Stadium. It was amazing, and quite the spiritual experience. Having 95,000 people singing along with Bono was just incredible. When I go to concerts, I like to get out before the rush but as Matt and I were getting ready to leave, I heard the opening guitar notes to the song One by U2, off their Achtung Baby album. I looked at Matt and said, “we can’t leave yet.” It was absolutely moving hearing those same 95,000 people sing together the following:

“one love, one blood, one life. You got to do what you should. One life with each other – sister,s brothers. One life but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.”

I looked around and saw how different all of us are, yet we were united together in the same thing: God’s compassionate love for us. As we sang our hearts out while that song was playing, I began to think of all the people who are different from me – whteher it is race, religion, politics, etc, and realized that yes, we are different but because of that, we learn that God loves even them.

Bono retells the story of the Jewish sheepherders on the road to meet Pharoah when talking about equality and justice, how we are all one:

“You know, think of those Jewish sheepherders going to meet the pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the pharaoh says, ‘equal?’ a preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, ‘yeah, equal. That’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of god’

And eventually the pharaoh says, ‘okay, I can accept that. I can accept the jews- but not the blacks. Not the women. Not the gays. Not the irish. No way, man”

We can’t do that. We can’t think that because we accept one type of person,thoe others are all okay. We know that God is with us – with all people.

“God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, AND [most importantly] God is with us if we are with them”

God is with us – if we are with those on the margins. Those who we think are weird or different. We are able to carry one another through this crazy road called life. God calls us to do that. To remember that God says that we are all made in the image of God, no matter who we are. We are all the beloved children of God.  Sometimes, in the death of a close friend who knew God loved everyone and showed that so passionately, and through the words at a rock concert, we are gently reminded that God loves the caananites of our world, and the ones who are different from us who we would rather exclude and ignore than include and have conversation with.  Like Jesus, we must take with us the understanding that our God is a compassionate one and our ministry extends beyond the reaches of our immediate world. May it be so. Amen.

i’m still here.

dear friends — i’m still alive and well, i promise. i’ve been on some adventures around here and just haven’t had time to update.

i’m going to leave you with my friend, the pelican, from the outer banks.

and let you know that i’ve been listening to bossypants by tina fey on audiobook. if you love tina fey at all, you should listen to hear read her book. i have laughed out loud so many times. she is amazing.